Monday 7th March - Doubtful Sound - Part 1

Mike and Liz Downing
Wed 30 Mar 2011 09:08
Monday - could we be lucky with another fine day? It was looking good on the short drive to Manapouri where the boat leaves from. Unlike Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound cannot be reached by road. The all-day trip starts with an hour's boat trip across Lake Manapouri, which at 55sq miles is big and one of the most beautiful in NZ. The sun continued to shine, but with the catamaran launch we were on traveling at speed it was 'bracing' on the outside top deck - or put another way, freezing! So most people (50-100 in all) remained inside on the lower deck and observed through the windows. Once over the lake, coaches took us through rainforest clad mountains and over the Wilmot Pass to the head of Doubtful Sound. This small stretch of unsealed road through the mountains was constructed to help build the Manapouri hydroelectric power station. The power station, which we visited on the return trip across the Wilmot Pass, is actually built and hidden 700ft inside the mountain, accessed via a spiral tunnel over a mile long built into the middle of the mountain. It uses the height difference between Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound to drive water turbines. Not sure we would be keen to work there underground, with all the earthquakes they get here!
On arrival at the Sound, it's on to another larger and faster excursion boat for the trip through the 25 mile long Sound to the open sea and back again. It's a 3-hour cruise and to do it in that time the boat travels at around 20kts. At that speed it's cold outside, but this time most people were out on deck to try and take it all in. And it doesn't seem fast with scale of the dramatic and spectacular scenery all around.  While it is dramatic and stunning scenery, Milford Sound has higher peaks and is even more dramatic, but Doubtful is longer, wider and deeper (about 1,400ft deep), and the sense of remoteness and wilderness is greater. The boat slowed to a stop to see the wildlife - a resident pod of dolphins gave a display and the rocks where the Sound meets the sea were covered in NZ Fur Seals basking in the sun. Yes, it was still sunny by the time we reached the sea and as the Tasman Sea was again calm, the boat went further out of the entrance than normal and you could see why Captain Cook thought it was 'doubtful' that he could sail his ship in and back out of the narrow entrance, hence the name. The trip back explored several of the arms of the fiord that disappear off from the main waterway. These were narrower and curved round mountains, and again added to the sense of remoteness. Back at the head of the Sound it was into the coach, across the Pass and, this time, and still in the coach, a drive down the 1.2 mile spiral track inside the mountain to the Manapouri Power Station. There we had a brief talk and were shown round the balcony of the huge generator hall and display area. A tremendous feat of engineering and like everything else here, amazing to see. As was watching the coach driver turn the coach around in such a small tunnel! From there it was back across the Manapouri Lake and the sun was still shining. So 2 consecutive fine days for 2 of the most stunning trips that exist. How lucky is that!       
Heading across Lake Manapouri at .......
...... a vast rate of knots!
Still tearing across Lake Manapouri, although it doesn't seem like it looking this way. To the
cameraman with the high wind chill factor it certainly did!
Approaching the other end of Lake Manapouri and our destination near the power station.
Phew, what a view! Out of the coach for a photo stop at the summit
of the Wilmot Pass 2,200ft up, looking down at Deep Cove, the inland
end of Doubtful Sound.
The boat taking us along the Sound - a fast catamaran design with plenty of glass to see out if
confined inside due to bad weather - don't forget it rains 2 out of every 3 days here. But on this sunny
day most people were outside, even though it was cold traveling at 20kts!
Our first look at the Sound at sea level.
A boat as big as the one we were on gives some idea of scale.
One of the bigger cascading waterfalls.
Above and below, more views as we head down the Sound to the sea.
The Shelter Islands at the sea end of the Sound give it protection from the Tasman Sea and are the
home of a colony of NZ fur seals (the lumps on the top!). The big cruise liner approaching the sound .....
...... doesn't look so big once inside! The Sound is on the itinerary of the cruise ships in this part of
the world and being very deep throughout its length is no problem for any ship.